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Fire Department Considers Expanding Training Facility

Jun062014
firetrainingtower-ithaca120The Lansing Volunteer Fire Department is looking into building a training tower on the existing training pad behind Central Station.  Lansing Deputy Fire Chief Brad George approached fire commissioners in May to sound them out about funding a new training facility behind Central Station.  Commissioners say that the project has been considered for about eight years, and funding is already allocated for it in the event the district decides purchase a tower.

"There are a lot of advantages to having a facility here," says Fire Commissioner Steve Oplinger.  "Anyone who does interior fighting has to have a yearly re-certification.  There's no way of getting around it.  They go down and do it with the County and it takes a long time.  We have to send apparatus down there so you lose protection here."

Fire Commission Secretary Alvin Parker says the department is considering a  two story training tower with one fireproof room that may cost about $80,000.  He says that modern training towers are prefabricated from stele, replacing the older cinder block style towers such as the one owned by the Ithaca Fire Department.

"They're probably easier to get now than they used to be," says District Treasurer George Gesslein.  "They're pre-fabricated and they're safer  so you don't have to worry so much about insurance issues."

Training towers are used to recreate nearly any real life situation firefighters may encounter.  Among the tasks are Hose advancement, fire attack, ventilation, search and rescue, laddering and rappelling, roof penetration, halo training, and working in confined spaces.

"You do everything you do at a fire scene, except for vehicle accidents," Oplinger explains.  "Everything.  Ladders, everything."

firetrainingtower-ithaca400ithaca's training facility includes a two story cinder block tower in which live fire scenarios can be enacted. Many local fire departments, including Lansing's, train there.

"When they go into the interior filled with smoke you can't see what you're doing.  It's more or less a search and rescue thing," says Connie Wilcox who has trained in the Ithaca training tower.  "There are usually steps you have to go up.  It's the smoke that's really the problem because you can't see anything.  They put a dummy in the room that you've got to find and you've got to feel around to find it.  You've got to have a fire in order to make the smoke, and they'll probably also practice extinguishing that fire with different methods.  So it's basically training for what you would encounter in a real fire situation. "

Parker says they start at about $50,000 and can go into the millions.

"You can spend millions if you want," says Fire Commission Chair Robert Wagner.  "We saw a facility on Long Island that had three story buildings.  They piped water to them.  They had railroad cars, because a big railroad goes through Long Island.  That cost millions and millions, but they had the money down there."

"How much do you want to spend?" Parker adds.  "I don't think you'll see it going as high as $100,000.  I think they're talking about spending around $80,000.  They're just in the process of getting it going.  We told them to go ahead and do it."

Gesslein says that the money has been in the budget for years.  He says about $100,000 is currently allocated for a training tower, so additional taxes would not be needed to erect a facility if it is decided to purchase one.

Oplinger notes that training in a tower is part of the Firefighter I training requirement.  The Firefighter I course is only offered at certain times of year, but because Lansing has at least three state certified instructors among its ranks new recruits could start the practical training as soon as they join.  Parker adds that could speed up training and provide another training option for other departments as well, taking some of the pressure off of the scheduling of the Ithaca facility, which Oplinger notes is becoming more difficult in the wake of increasing state requirements.

"Say we get six new members this month," Parker says.  "Summer is kind of a slow time.  Firefighter I may not be offered for six months.  Part of that training is done in the tower.  They can be training out here."

"They could do the training right here and invite other departments to train here, too," Wilcox says.  "It could be a win-win situation for everybody."

firetraining_400Firefighters from Lansing and neighboring fire departments frequently train to respond to vehicle emergencies on the Lansing Central Station training pad

The existing training pad is frequently used to train Lansing and neighboring communities' firefighters to respond to vehicle emergencies.  A tower would extend Lansing's capability to train for all kinds of fires.  Commissioner Larry Creighton says that now is a good time to consider erecting a training tower because a long-standing agreement to use space at the Ithaca Mall is coming to an end.  The portion of the mall that used to house the old movie theaters has been used for fire training since 2007.

"They're putting Ultimate Fitness where the old theaters were," Creighton says.  "They're moving them out and putting a women's clothing store where they are now.  It lasted for quite a few years.  It was great because three or four departments were able to use it.  But now it's going to be closed to us."

Creighton says the department considered accepting a house in 2007 to use for training. Owners John Dietershagen and Leo Mahool wanted to donate the house to clear a lot near the intersection of Triphammer and Auburn Roads for possible business use.  But department officials decided it was not a good fit.

"It didn't work at the time," Creighton says.  "We wouldn't have been able to train with live fire.  We'd only have been able to do smoke in it.  The more they looked into it the more they decided it wasn't the way to go."

He also notes that many small departments in New York have their own towers.  Wilcox says it is not uncommon for departments to have their own training facilities.

"I was in Cleveland for a wedding about two weeks ago.  Just about every fire department that you go by has their own training tower," Wilcox says.  "I noticed the same thing in Florida when I was there last winter.  So it's not a novel idea.  It's something that's done by a lot of departments."

Parker stresses that the project is only in the very beginning stages of consideration. 

"It's a preliminary thing," he says.  "They are looking into it."

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